HC Deb 01 August 1939 vol 350 cc2340-4

10.52 p.m.

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

I beg to move, That the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 and 1933, for regulating the marketing of milk products, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 13th day of July, 1939, be approved. This scheme was submitted to my predecessor and the then Secretary of State for Scotland in 1936. The completion of the statutory procedure was delayed until it could be ascertained what place this scheme should take in the structure of the milk industry. With the withdrawal of the Milk Industry Bill it was decided that the scheme should be proceeded with. Therefore, in accordance with the Act, the Secretary of State and myself, and our predecessors, satisfied ourselves that the promoters were substantially representative of the milk manufacturers concerned. We received representations from people who thought their interests might be affected, and caused a public inquiry to be held, at which these objections were investigated. We considered the report of the commissioner, and we made such modifications as we thought desirable, and these have been agreed by the promoters of the scheme.

The products covered are butter, cheese, condensed milk, whole or skimmed, dried milk, whole or skimmed, cream and sterilised cream. The scheme will confer most of the main powers authorised by the Agricultural Marketing Acts. The board may regulate the prices at which the products are to be sold, the persons to whom they are to be sold, the terms of sale and the grading and packing of the products. I cannot say how the board will exercise its powers because it is not in existence. Its main objective will be to maintain stability in the milk products market. It has been evident for a long time that some coherent marketing policy in milk products is necessary. The scheme is essentially one for the regulation of factory produce. The farm producer and the small dairy producer will be exempt from it. The board will be elected by the producers of the various regulated products, and the scheme is devised to, and we hope will in fact, secure not only a board of representatives of the industry but a set of business men who will be able to look after the interests of the industry as a whole.

If Parliament approves it, the scheme will not come into force before it has had the approval of a two-thirds majority of the producers of each product. If that requisite majority is not attained for any one or more of those products, these products will be excluded from the scheme, and the scheme will be confined to the ones which meet with approval. There is the usual provision for the revocation of this scheme by poll if desired. Undoubtedly this scheme will be of great value not only to the milk products industry but also to the milk industry as a whole.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

In 1932 I might have welcomed this scheme with open arms. The scheme, drawn as it is out of the Act of 1931, would have been designed exclusively for the purpose of marketing certain commodities, with all of which on this side of the Committee we agree, but the passing of the Act of 1933, which confers upon the Government, wherever a marketing scheme is in existence or is being thought of, power to regulate the marketing of the commodity which is to be marketed through the scheme, rather tends to disturb one's mind as to the power which the 1933 Act gives, once a marketing scheme is brought into existence.

I would remind hon. Members that this scheme will be governed, according to pages 4, 5 and 6, by 25 persons all of whom are producers, and that not a consumer is to be found anywhere in that scheme, even including the co-operative wholesale societies. I know that when the scheme was contemplated the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society had to be consulted because they formed part of the scheme. I have no objection to the marketing scheme as such, but I am advising hon. Members to note that the 25 members who will constitute the board are everyone producers' representatives and that, apart from the cooperative society's representatives, there is no representative of the consumers of these commodities. I am particularly concerned about that. I have no intention of voting against the scheme, but we ought to bear in mind that butter, cheese and other milk products are embodied in the scheme and that if, as a result of the scheme, the Minister is given power to regulate the imports of butter, on top of the 1½d. per pound duty paid by foreign countries, it might conceivably be used with grave detriment to the large multitude of consumers in this country.

We have no objection to a marketing scheme as such. We wish it well and hope that it will rationalise the various factors and help to produce efficient organisation in the distribution of this product. But we warn the Ministers that if, before this scheme has really got under way, they are going to make their primary object the regulation of vital imports of commodities, they will hear a good deal more about it in this House. For the reasons I have given, and because of the fact that the Labour Government were responsible for the Act of 1931, we could not in any circumstances oppose a marketing scheme, but we are very chary of what the effect of the Act of 1933 may be, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be extremely careful, when the ballot is ultimately taken and the appropriate majorities are obtained, not to exercise too much power in advising the Board of Trade to restrict unduly the imports of butter, cheese or any other of these milk commodities.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

My hon. Friend has indicated that we are not going to Divide on this Motion, but I think that, before the scheme is passed, it should be made clear that there are people included in the promotion of the scheme who find themselves almost forced to be included because of existing facts in the milk industry. If there were no milk marketing boards operating in the way that they are, there would be no necessity for a secondary Milk Products Board, and it follows that some people who are included in the promotion of the scheme would not be there but for the fact that they have to accept the position created by the operation of the Milk Marketing Board. While I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that, from the point of view of the objects of the scheme, the whole directorate of the first board must be regarded as representing producers, because they are manufacturers of secondary products, I do not think the people who represent the Co-operative movement on the board will forget that they are representatives of the consumers. If they did, they would soon be reminded of it by their own co-operative consumers.

Resolved, That the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, 1931 and 1933, for regulating the marketing of milk products, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 13th day of July, 1939, be approved.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.


Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Lieut.-Colonel Charles Kerr.]

Adjourned accordingly at Three Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.